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Book review: “Mein Kampf”

· 15 min read

The problem with the ubiquitous five-star rating system is that you cannot assign negative value to things. (What would the opposite of a “star” be? A “black hole”? Something that sucks light instead of emitting it…)

I mean a negative rating as in this entirely fictional customer review:

“My rating: minus-⭐!
I bought this power drill back in August and I was so excited to use it.
Well, it drilled
backwards and it trepanned my skull!
Very painful. Avoid this product.”

Or this one:

“My experience at the première:
The film was so disgusting that it made me dizzy first, then gave me seizures, and finally a voice in my head somehow convinced me to devote the rest of my life to gently tapping with a teaspoon the forehead of every person around me, incessantly.
That was six years ago.
Writing this from the madhouse now. Not too bad in here, actually.
(I still give the film five black holes for the damage caused! Four black holes, tops.)”

But I guess one could also rate stuff based not on how “good” it feels, but on how “important” or “useful” it is.

According to that criterion (and in the absence of a scale extending all the way down to black holes) I'd probably give “Mein Kampf” two stars. Not more, because it is very poorly written and redundant, because it offers nothing to support its theses, and because Historians and other scholars have already explained Hitler's ideas and deeds much better than the man himself. And not less, because you definitely learn something by reading it.

Or do you?

I place great value in reading primary sources, as did my beloved Antonio Escohotado (RIP). There is simply no better way to understand what a person really thinks, than to listen to what they say, and read what they wrote. This does not mean one should take primary sources at face value, of course. All humans are biased and self-serving, and if you said or did something that put your name in History books forever, chances are you are extremely biased and self-serving. But I read Hitler, Marx or Ayn Rand for the same reason that Escohotado reads Lenin: because we believe that interpretation, fact-checking, correction and judgement should come on top of the work itself, not instead of it. (Unfortunately, many pundits forget that listening to what criminals and monsters have to say is usually worth it, and that your enemies are often as eager to lecture you on their hatred and as explicit about their goals as the most talkative version of Dr No. Think guilt-ridden Western apologists vs. jihadists…)

It's difficult to think of someone whose writing you should trust less than Adolf Hitler. After all, the man was indirectly responsible for the deaths of millions of human beings (somewhere between ten and thirty million, depending on sources and criteria). Someone capable of that is very well capable of lying on every single page of a book, distorting facts to the extreme, or making up his own reality. I guess if the hating and the killing were seven orders of magnitude or so less severe, someone could give the author the benefit of the doubt. But things as they are, “My Struggle” has to be the epitome of subjectivity, a paroxysm of propaganda.

In spite of this reading being somewhat “useful”, I did not dare to give it more than ⭐ on Goodreads because my alternative interpretation of the rating system as crude “usefulness” is not what most people have in their minds most of the time, and I was worried that other users of the site could think of me as some kind of, gasp, fan of National Socialism.

Propaganda poster for Adolf Hitler, 1943

I hope I'm not giving away any spoilers by saying that the author was no friend of the Jews. Remember the millions of people who died, mostly because of Hitler's ideas? About six million of those were European Jews. That was roughly two thirds of the Jewish population in Europe at the time (the Holocaust was truly a “holocaust”; no Godwin's Law to invoke here!). Contrary to what silly Whoopi says, the Holocaust was absolutely about race (and also about non-neurotypical people, homosexuals, the disabled, etc; but the justification for all that was “the purity of the blood”, too) — and “Mein Kampf” makes that crystal clear.

Hitler's obsession with race in general, and with “the international Jew” in particular, is amazing to witness; more so by contemporary standards. It feels almost physically disgusting to read, black on white, such fervent praise of the projected “racist state” (on my translation into Spanish; “völkischer Staat” in the original, and “ethnical state” in the English version I checked).

“This conglomerate spectacle of heterogeneous races which the capital of the Dual Monarchy presented, this motley of Czechs, Poles, Hungarians, Ruthenians, Serbs and Croats, etc., and always that bacillus which is the solvent of human society, the Jew, here and there and everywhere — the whole spectacle was repugnant to me. The gigantic city seemed to be the incarnation of mongrel depravity.”
[“Widerwärtig war mir das Rassenkonglomerat, das die Reichshauptstadt zeigte, widerwärtig dieses ganze Völkergemisch von Tschechen, Polen, Ungarn, Ruthenen, Serben und Kroaten usw., zwischen allem aber als ewiger Spaltpilz der Menschheit – Juden und wieder Juden. Mir erschien die Riesenstadt als die Verkörperung der Blutschande.”]

It's difficult to overstate the hatred:

“Should the Jew, with the aid of his Marxist creed, triumph over the people of this world, his Crown will be the funeral wreath of mankind, and this planet will once again follow its orbit through ether, without any human life on its surface, as it did millions of years ago.”
[“Siegt der Jude mit Hilfe seines marxistischen Glaubensbekenntnisses über die Völker dieser Welt, dann wird seine Krone der Totentanz der Menschheit sein, dann wird dieser Planet wieder wie einst vor Jahrmillionen menschenleer durch den Äther ziehen.”]

So, why are the Jews so bad? Here I have to report, once again, the frustration one feels when reading essays older than a few decades: there doesn't seem to be anything resembling contemporary academic rigour, counter-argumentation, statistics or citations in the social sciences before the second half of the 20th century (not that I will dignify this turd of a book by calling it “science”). This has bothered me since I set out to read some classics of non-fiction a few years ago. Obviously I was not expecting to find on these pages a careful compilation of meta-analyses and RCTs proving conclusively that the Jews are indeed worth of death camps — but precisely because the matter at hand could not be more consequential, the lack of sources and evidence to “support” the idea that a certain “race” is objectively inferior to another and even an existential threat to humanity is the more egregious.

To Hitler, Marxism and the Jews are controlling everything: the Austrian and German parliaments, the economy, the trade unions, and especially the media; and the bourgeoisie is a conspiratorial accomplice. Noticing Hitler's fixation with money and banking, I thought of the fascinating argument Thomas Sowell makes in “Are Jews Generic?”:

The existence of vilified ‘middlemen minorities’ is ubiquitous across cultures and time periods. […] What unites these groups is not merely the violence and persecution that they face (which is faced by other religious and ethnic minorities), but their role in the economy, which is both needed and reviled. […] In order to be a recognizable ‘middlemen minority,’ a people group has to have a distinguishable ethnicity, which requires that they have managed to retain their culture and distinctiveness. Also, if they had been totally assimilated into the surrounding culture, they would have lost the particular qualities that enabled them to fill their particular economic niche. These qualities often include a certain degree of ‘clannishness’, […] frugality, […] a strong work ethic, […] and an emphasis on education. […] This combination of traits, unsurprisingly, usually leads to substantial economic success, […] which compounds the resentment attached to the economic “middleman” role.”

In other words: it's not really the “race”, the religion or the language, but a certain kind of intelligence, entrepreneurship and filling a role in the economy that provokes envy. I find this quite convincing at the meta level.

It is also true that the book does not mention any intent to kill members of the inferior races. Of course that does not mean that extermination was not Hitler's secret plan from the get go (cf comment above about Hitler not being particularly deserving of trust or extra-charitable interpretations). And of course we can't know counterfactuals. But I guess this aspect kind of supports Thaddeus Russell's repeated claim that it was the rest of the world's refusal to welcome early Jewish refugees and the beginning of military attacks against Germany what suddenly toggled the Nazi switch from “deportation” to “genocide”.

Other things that Hitler clearly does not dig: democracy, elections, coalitions, weakness, consensus, compromise, theorists, moderates.

Nazi propaganda poster blaming Jews for wars

No matter what you have read in Twitter threads and seen on TV debates, Hitler was a theist, and a Christian. I'll repeat. Hitler was a Christian.

How do we know that? Here go a few quotes from the book:

“And so I believe to-day that my conduct is in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator. In standing guard against the Jew I am defending the handiwork of the Lord.”
[“So glaube ich heute im Sinne des allmächtigen Schöpfers zu handeln: Indem ich mich des Juden erwehre, kämpfe ich für das Werk des Herrn.”]

“What we have to fight for is the necessary security for the existence and increase of our race and people, the subsistence of its children and the maintenance of our racial stock unmixed, the freedom and independence of the Fatherland; so that our people may be enabled to fulfil the mission assigned to it by the Creator.”
[“Für was wir zu kämpfen haben, ist die Sicherung des Bestehens und der Vermehrung unserer Rasse und unseres Volkes, die Ernährung seiner Kinder und Reinhaltung des Blutes, die Freiheit und Unabhängigkeit des Vaterlandes, auf daß unser Volk zur Erfüllung der auch ihm vom Schöpfer des Universums zugewiesenen Mission heranzureifen vermag.”]

“To a political leader the religious teachings and practices of his people should be sacred and inviolable.”
[“Dem politischen Führer haben religiöse Lehren und Einrichtungen seines Volkes immer unantastbar zu sein.”]

“For the masses of the people, especially faith is absolutely the only basis of a moral outlook on life. The various substitutes that have been offered have not shown any results that might warrant us in thinking that they might usefully replace the existing denominations. […] The attack against dogma is comparable to an attack against the general laws on which the State is founded. And so this attack would finally lead to complete political anarchy if it were successful, just as the attack on religion would lead to a worthless religious nihilism. The political leader should not estimate the worth of a religion by taking some of its shortcomings into account, but he should ask himself whether there be any practical substitute in a view which is demonstrably better. Until such a substitute be available only fools and criminals would think of abolishing the existing religion.”
[“Gerade aber für die Masse ist der Glaube häufig die einzige Grundlage einer sittlichen Weltanschauung überhaupt. Die verschiedenen Ersatzmittel haben sich im Erfolg nicht so zweckmäßig erwiesen, als daß man in ihnen eine nützliche Ablösung der bisherigen religiösen Bekenntnisse zu erblicken vermöchte. […] Der Angriff gegen die Dogmen an sich gleicht deshalb auch sehr stark dem Kampfe gegen die allgemeinen gesetzlichen Grundlagen des Staates, und so wie dieser sein Ende in einer vollständigen staatlichen Anarchie finden würde, so der andere in einem wertlosen religiösen Nihilismus. Für den Politiker aber darf die Abschätzung des Wertes einer Religion weniger durch die ihr etwa anhaftenden Mängel bestimmt werden als vielmehr durch die Güte eines ersichtlich besseren Ersatzes. Solange aber ein solcher anscheinend fehlt, kann das Vorhandene nur von Narren oder Verbrechern demoliert werden.”]

On top of words, there were deeds. If you are interested in the links between the supernatural, religion and the Christian church(es) on the one hand, and the Nazis on the other, some authors have illustrated them quite well (among those, Sam Harris and the Hitch).

And if you are offended by the idea that Hitler believed in a certain God (hint: it wasn't Quetzalcoatl) and in Jesus Christ, and that he acted in accordance to that faith, please remember that, as far as I know, Christendom doesn't issue membership cards, nor are there NFTs on any blockchain to prove who is, or is not, a member of a certain religion. You have to understand that from this atheistic porch where some of us are sitting, out here, Hitler is as much of a Christian as Mother Teresa; in the same way that Malala Yousufzai and Osama bin Laden are both “Muslims” to any non-Muslim. I know that to you, “good” Christian, it's obvious that those guys were sick or delusional, and that what they did was hideous and the exact opposite of what the Lord commands — just know that those other guys feel the same way about you, too. You Christians sort out those differences among yourselves inside there, please. And when you have figured it out, come out here on the porch and tell us all the definitive criteria, and who counts as a Christian and who does not.

Catholic clergy and nazi officials giving the nazi salute in Germany

But I digress.

Once established that Hitler thought he was, quoting verbatim, acting “in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator”, and that he was obsessed with the “purity of the blood” and with the Jews, let's turn to his other obsession: Hitler.

In the least subtle of ways, he spends half of the book aggrandising himself.

He doesn't want to convince with solid arguments, but by his newly-discovered superpowers as an orator:

“I talked for thirty minutes, and what I always had felt deep down in my heart, without being able to put it to the test, was here proved to be true: I could make a good speech. At the end of the thirty minutes it was quite clear that all the people in the little hall had been profoundly impressed.”
[“Ich sprach dreißig Minuten, und was ich früher, ohne es irgendwie zu wissen, einfach innerlich gefühlt hatte, wurde nun durch die Wirklichkeit bewiesen: ich konnte reden! Nach dreißig Minuten waren die Menschen in dem kleinen Raum elektrisiert.”]

He doesn't want to compromise, join forces, or even lead a coalition: he wants to do it all alone.

“It must never be forgotten that nothing really great in this world has ever been achieved through coalitions, but that such achievements have always been due to the triumph of the individual.”
[“Man vergesse niemals, daß alles wirklich Große auf dieser Welt nicht erkämpft wurde von Koalitionen, sondern daß es stets der Erfolg eines einzelnen Siegers war.”]

He repeatedly praises dogma, fanaticism and intolerance:

“The future of a movement is determined by the devotion, and even intolerance, with which its members fight for their cause. They must feel convinced that their cause alone is just, and they must carry it through to success, as against other similar organizations in the same field.”
[“Die Zukunft einer Bewegung wird bedingt durch den Fanatismus, ja die Unduldsamkeit, mit der ihre Anhänger sie als die allein richtige vertreten und anderen Gebilden ähnlicher Art gegenüber durchsetzen.”]

He wants to sacrifice for the Fatherland. He's strength personified. He's a martyr willing to assume the heaviest of burdens for the benefit of his people.

“The man who becomes leader is invested with the highest and unlimited authority, but he also has to bear the last and gravest responsibility.”
[“Wer Führer sein will, trägt bei höchster unumschränkter Autorität auch die letzte und schwerste Verantwortung. ”]

Nuremberg Rally of 1934

Hitler did not even contemplate reform: his only acceptable outcome was complete refoundation.

He wanted to tear everything apart and start from scratch. If ever there was a red light in philosophy, in politics and in economics, this is it.

“Mein Kampf” and “The Communist Manifesto” are useful in that way, at least. Thus the little star or two.

As for Nazism itself, my fictional customer review sums it up nicely too:

Very painful. Avoid this product.